I took the two photographs above while walking on the “Bloomingdale Trail” in Chicago. This unused 2.7 miles of elevated railroad tracks and footpaths is slated to become a park and trail system connecting four neighborhoods by fall of 2014 (similar to the High Line in NYC).
I recently took my son and two close friends of his to walk the “Bloomingdale”. It was so cool to be walking 16 feet above street level and getting a very unique perspective of Chicago. We walked over and next to parks, streets, schools, old factory buildings, and residential areas for about 30 minutes. On a second trip there, last week, I walked the entire stretch of 2.8 miles from beginning to end and back again. It was on this excursion that found the two abandoned trains. They had been left there and over the years had become part of the urban landscape. I had wanted to walk the entire Bloomingdale Trail prior to it’s face-lift and reconstructive surgery.
These abandoned tracks and the footpaths made by joggers and bicyclists will loose some of their character when the city of Chicago transforms them into park area and trails. As I looked at and examined the these two sets of train cars I reflected on how they, at one time, served a purpose holding cargo of one type or another, but without an engine pulling them they were rendered non-functional. I thought about myself and how I can have big grand ideas and projects in my mind, but if they are not “attached” to an action plan or any measurable movement, then they are just plans, sitting abandoned on a railroad track.
Hislamdus, teaching oneself/learning from things, is key for those who try to invest time in working on themselves. This is what I was doing with the train cars. As I walked back to my entry point (which involved climbing through a cut out passageway in a fence) I was reminded of a something taught by Rav Yisrael Salanter. When he first observed the railroad system he was able to extract three important lessons: If you come late, you will miss the train; if the train jumps the rail, then all of the cars might overturn; a person without a ticket cannot board the train.
From T’nuas HaMussar (The Mussar Movement)
“…he employed every means at his disposal to guard his son [Yom Tov Lipman Lipkin] against straying from Judaism. He journeyed specially to St. Petersburg to extract a three-fold promise: that his son should observe Shabbat, refrain from eating trefah food, and not shave. He would say that were he able to disguise himself as a woman, he would go to work in the restaurant patronized by his son, so as to supervise the kashurt. He also requested R. Isacc Blazer, then rabbi in St. Petersburg, by mail, to keep an eye on the son. In this way, he said, the son remained a loyal Jew.”
While it obviously pained Rav Yisrael that this child (one of four sons and a daughter) strayed from the traditional path, the founder of the Mussar movement made great attempts to not only help his son while he was in university and afterwards, but that he never stopped loving Yom Tov. I have only been a father for 12 years and I know that my children don’t always see eye-to-eye with me, just like I didn’t always see things eye-to-eye with my father a”h, but the bond of love never is severed.
Rav Soloveitchik zt’l from Dr. Peli’s On Repentance:
“Please allow me to make a ‘private confession’ concerning a matter that has caused me much loss of sleep… I still remember- it was not so long ago- when Jews were still close to God and lived in an atmosphere pervaded with holiness. But today, what do we see? The profane and the secular are in control everywhere we turn.
Even in those neighborhoods made up predominantly of religious Jews, one can no longer talk of the ‘sanctity of Shabbat.’ True, there are Jews in America who observe Shabbath. The label ‘Sabbath obverver” has come to be used as a title of honor in our circles just like HaRav HaGaon neither really indicate anything and both testify to the lowly state of our generation. But it is not for Shabbath that my heart aches; it is for the forgotten ‘erev Shabbath’ . There are Shabbat-observing Jews in America, but there are no ‘erev Shabbath’ Jews who go out to greet Shabbat with beating hearts and pulsating souls. There are many who observe the precepts with their hands, with their feet, and/or with their mouths – but there are few indeed who truly know the meaning of the service of the heart!” (pp. 97-98)
I will copy/paste the last sentence again, because it’s hits home to me.
There are many who observe the precepts with their hands, with their feet, and/or with their mouths – but there are few indeed who truly know the meaning of the service of the heart!”
|Graphic from here|
|Photo from here|
Last Tuesday, January 31, 2012 the following story about Rabbi Yisrael Salanter was included in a letter to the editor of the Palm Beach Post (no, I don’t read this paper, but the link showed up in my Google Alert for “Salanter”).
I recall a story recounted in the name of Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, a founder of an ethical movement in Judaism. Rabbi Yisrael saw two boys squabbling over who was taller than the other. One boy took an aggressive action to sustain his view that he was taller by pushing the other into a hole. Rabbi Salanter went over and said, “If you wish to prove that you are taller, put a stone under you, don’t shove another into a hole.”
RABBI JACOB SIMCHA COHEN
So, I emailed to people, whom I consider to be fairly well versed in the teaching of R Yisrael Salanter to see if they had heard of this story. Both were not familar with it.
Now, there’s a quote from R Yisrael Salanter that states, “”Promote yourself, but do not demote another.” This idea behind this quote seems similar to the story above, however it’s not an exact fit.
Over Shabbos I happened to find the quote below on page 123 of R L Oschry’s translation of Tnuas HaMussar, “The Mussar Movement” by R Dov Katz. This seems like the missing piece of the puzzle.
To surpass someone else, one must not dig a pit for him, but build a higher platform for oneself.
Update: A message was sent me regarding the story printed in the Palm Beach Post and I’d like to clarify that the story is, most likely, apocryphal. Most probably it was created around the quote above.
The following was published CHICAGO TORAH, a monthly publication of Yeshiva University Torah Mitzion Kollel of Chicago.
The 25th of Teves is the yahrtzeit of Rav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler zt’l, one of the most influential post World War II baalei mussar.
I’d like to re-examine one of my favorite about him, originally posted here.
When Rav Dessler came to America in 1948, he met up with his son, Nachum Velvel in New York. Rav Dessler asked his son who had help him during his years alone in America? His son mentioned several people in New York along with Rabbi Eliezer Silver, the head of Agudah Israel and the rav of Cincinnati. Rav Dessler said, “We must thank him.”
His son offered to place a telephone call to Rabbi Silver, but Rav Dessler wanted to show personal hakaros hatov to Rabbi Silver. Nachum Velvel and his father then took a nine hour train ride to Ohio, arriving at 5:00 am in Cincinnati. Then went to Rabbi Silver’s home and waited on the porch to meet Rabbi Silver as he left his house for davening.
Rabbi Silver met his two guests when he woke up and they all went to shul and then back to the Silver’s for breakfast. After a bite to eat, Rabbi Silver said, “So, Rav Dessler, what brings you to Cincinnati?” Rav Dessler said that he had only come to show appreciation to Rabbi Silver for all he had done for his son.
Rabbi Silver thought about this and again asked, “So, Rav Dessler, what really brings you to Cincinnati?”
Rav Dessler said that he had no other purpose that to show hakaros hatov. Rabbi Silver asked, “Rav Dessler, what can I do for you?”
Rav Dessler, for a third time, repeated that he only wished to show gratitude to Rabbi Silver in person.
Rabbi Silver finally gave up and muttered, “This must be mussar.”
(Paraphrased from the Artscroll biography of Rav Dessler, by Yonoson Rosenbloom)
For other postings about Rav Dessler please click here.
|Graphic from here|
Every year, as part of our day school’s “give/get” program, I volunteer as the “room mother” for my son’s class. The last time I blogged about this was when he was in 2nd grade. My duty was really just to watch the class eat lunch and hang out in the room while their Rebbe enjoyed the faculty Chanukah party at school. Last year, I said something that totally embarassed my son. This year I had the intention of keeping myself under the radar.
As it turned out, that morning I drove “minyan carpool”, so I was in the school for shacharis. I observed something for 2 minutes that made me very sad. During davening one of the boys thought it would be cute to take a siddur from another boy who was davening. What surprised me was that these boys are actually really good friends. I kept waiting for the siddur to be returned, but it didn’t happen, so I went and retrieved it myself. I am not that friendly with the family of the boy to took the siddur, so I wasn’t too hip to saying something to him about what he did. I did mention to the boy who was left without a siddur that behavior like that isn’t the way that Hashem wants us to treat our fellow Jews and if someone does something like that again to him then he really should say something. I am very close with him, so he totally understood what I was saying. Knowing that I would have time in the classroom that afternoon with both boys (and the rest of my son’s class), I started thinking about how I could get the message across that taking a siddur from someone is totally uncool.
As I walked into the class, I realized that I had to tell over Reb Shlomo Carlebach’s story of “The Holy Hunchback”. If you are not familiar with it, go here and then continue reading. I had played it for my son the week before and I knew that this was the vehicle to, hopefully, get my message delivered. I let the kids have their lunch and schmooze among themselves and then offered them a story.
Even though my son hoped I would sing it, Carlebach style, I simply said it over, slowly repeating the catchprase, “Children, precious children, just remember the greatest thing in the world is to do somebody else a favor“. Then I said that by doing a favor to someone, we’re doing what Hashem does. He did us the biggest favor by creating the Torah, creating the world, and creating us. I mentioned that we don’t have to be street cleaner to do people favors. By simply smiling at someone, saying hi, or asking how someone is doing, you following Hashem’s example.
Then I said to them that by making fun of someone or being mean you are doing the opposite of “the greatest thing in the world”. I told them, locking eyes for half a second with one boy, that even something that they think is harmless, like taking a siddur from a friend who is davening, is, like, far from the greatest thing they could do in the world… it’s not a favor to you, your friend, or Hashem.
I ended my 40 minutes, as their next teacher came in, thanking them for their time and reminding them that “the greastest thing in the world is to do someone else a favor”.